Southern Ontario Brook Trout

Brook trout hold a place of reverence among many anglers for their colour, fighting ability, and taste.  For some anglers like my dad they have attained a place of reverence among the freshwater species of our province.  As a lad, I can recall growing up listening to him tell stories about fishing for these colourful creatures in the local streams around the outskirts of Bancroft.  By his account they were plentiful, sensitive, yet easy to catch (if you knew how), and a  source of a great number of fond memories.  Personally, I can recall some of our camping trips to Algonquin park where my dad would pull our station wagon over and disappear down the side of the embankment, only to return with a few of these little creatures.  Pan-fried brook trout over a campstove was my first real taste of wild food, and very likely one of the sparks that ignited my passion for fishing for these delicious fish.

Times change, populations grow, and land gets developed.  In turn our, impact to the environment (at least locally in Ontario) sent the population of brook trout into somewhat of a nose dive in many areas.  In the back of my mind I knew that development and things like agricultural run off can effect the water quality of small streams.  But this effect really didn’t hit me hard until my dad reported back after a return visit to some of those streams a few years ago.  I’m told he only caught a single trout for the whole trip.  Sadly I felt like the days of bountiful brook trout were lost.

My best days fishing brook trout have been in the middle of Algonquin park, and in Gaspésie, Quebec.  Fish were plentiful on both trips, however, in each case I had to work extremely hard, and sometimes travel for days, to find the places of historic abundance.  Anytime I tried to catch them locally, I always ended up with an empty basket. After these local trips, my view of brook trout fishing was fairly pessimistic.  My conclusion: good easy local brook trout fishing just didn’t exist any more in southern Ontario.

My pessimistic view changed during a grouse hunting/fishing trip this past fall, after having some unexpected success with the square tails in a not to distant location.  Our goal was grouse, but we ended up pulling several brook trout out of the lakes on the way.  Still uncertain about the fishing, I planned to return one day to fully explore the area.   I reported my success to my uncle who was intrigued and suggested we do a winter trip.  I got to work right away scouring the MNR fish online tool to scout the area, and contacted cottages in the area to secure accommodations.  When the dust settled we had planned a three day trip planned for the area that was not too far for any of us to drive.  I could tell you where we went, but in my experience, half the fun is finding these locations out for yourself.  Fish Online

Day 1 arrived on January 18th, and we met at our rental cottage and prepared the snow mobiles and gear for a days run into the woods.  Although we got off to a late morning start we were still hopefull.  Afterall, there were five of us, two snowmobiles, an array of fishing rods and tackle.  We could cover a lot of ground with that set up.

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We started the trip on the lake where I had some success the previous fall and spread out along the shoreline.  There was at least 12″ of ice wherever we drilled with a max of 14″ in some places.  Simple live bait rigs with gads were the ticket and within the first 30 minutes, I had 3 fish on the ice.  Another two were iced among the remaining members of our group and the fish kept biting.  We ended the day with a respectable 10 fish iced, about the same lost at the hole, and countless more missed hits.  Tired yet happy, we returned to our cottage for a celebratory beverage.

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Fresh fish on ice!

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We beat the sun up on the second day and started our trek back into some of the more remote lakes.  The ride in was several kilometers and things got pretty hairy with three dudes on the back of a snowmobile.  Half way in the three man machine was working a bit hard so we moved one of the guys to a towed sled.  We resumed our trek and made it to the lakes.  Thankfully I was the navigator on this trip which secured me a permanent position on one of the cushioned seats.

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One of the gents with his first brook trout ever through the ice.

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Fishing was tough on the second day, and we worked real hard moving around the lake to try and locate fish.  Our efforts paid off and we racked up another 6 fish on the day, with the majority of them being bigger than the previous day.  Shallow wood seemed to work well for us as well as rock points.  Just like that, another satisfying, albeit hard, day was behind us.

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Having satisfied ourselves on brookies over the first two days, we decided to switch things up on the third day and target a different lake that was stocked with splake.  For those who don’t know, these fish are hybrids between a lake trout and a brook trout.  This presents some added complexity to fishing for them as they have been known to behave like both species whenever the mood strikes them.  With this knowledge in our minds, we varied our presentations with a mix of setlines and a couple jigging presentations in deeper water.  As luck would have it, the splake were feeling brookish on the third day and while exploring the area with a depth finder, I looked back to see that my Gad had disappeared.  Not sure what to expect, I began pulling up my line and eventually pulled my gad right out of the hole.  Seconds later I felt a familiar tug and I set the hook on a beautiful 5lb splake.  I eased the tank up from bottom and attempted to remove the line from the gad so I could use my rod.   Murphy’s law kicked in and the line snapped.  I was left with a gad was in one hand and business end of the line n the other.  With no more time to be gentle, I hauled the fish up and grabbed the fluorocarbon leader.  The fish crested the hole and I took a breath.

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Aside from the interesting fight, I also noted the deep gold colour of the belly of this fish.  Most of the splake I have caught in the past were distinctly silvery, however this one seemded to lean towards its brook trout genes.  I’m guessing the lake may have something to do with the colour.

This splake happened to be my largest of the species to date.

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We visited one more small lake and added a few more brookies to our tally.  All said and done, we caught about 22 brookies and one big splake between 5 of us over the course of 2 and a half days.

Its not the big numbers I used to hear my dad talk about, but its definitely respectable for the size of the lakes we were on and for where we were fishing.  Catching that splake also made the trip real special.

Stocked lakes.  They are out there and are stocked for a reason, so go fish them!  There are so many reasons to target these lakes like the more you target stocked lakes, the less your focussing on natural strains of fish, which preserves the genetic diversity of our province.  Also, part of your license fees go to stocking these lakes so why not reap some of the rewards from a program you help fund.

Cheers from the ice,

Albert

 

 

 

Physalis – Ground Cherries

During some recent field work north of Toronto I stumbled across the strangest looking plant in a fairly wild section of public lands.  The bright orange colour of the fruiting bodies drew me in immediately and forced an impromptu googling session.  I was familiar with ground cherries but never any this vibrant.

Here is what I found:

Physalis alkekengi (bladder cherry, Chinese lantern,[2] Japanese-lantern,[3] strawberry groundcherry,[4] or winter cherry It is easily identifiable by the large, bright orange to red papery covering over its fruit, which resembles paper lanterns. It grows naturally in the region covering southern Europe to south Asia and Japan. It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 40–60 cm tall, with spirally arranged leaves 6–12 cm long and 4–9 cm broad. The flowers are white, with a five-lobed corolla 10–15 mm across, with an inflated basal calyx which matures into the papery orange fruit covering, 4–5 cm long and broad.

Peterson’s field guide reports these to be edible when ripe but offers a warning that unripe berries and the leaves are poisonous. 

Although the specific species I found is a non native plant, some species are native to the Americas such as the Smooth ground-cherry (Physalis virginiana Mill. var. subglabrata (Mackenz. and Bush) U.T. Waterfall) and clammy ground-cherry (Physalis heterophylla Nees).

Here are a couple shots of my find

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

The Wilds of…. Alberta?

The primary focus of this blog has always been showcasing the natural beauty of Ontario and its wilderness.  However, at times I have been known to write up posts on my travels to other provinces of Canada. This article happens to be one such post which describes my recent trip to Alberta.

I love Ontario and don’t think I would be as happy living any where else.  But if I had to choose a close second, the Albertan Mountains would definitely make the short list.

Our trip began on the last days of June, 2016, with a flight out of Ottawa.  We landed in Edmonton, spent a few days with my cousin and attended a wedding of a college friend.  Edmonton was interesting in its own right, however, aside from the river valleys, the area is quite flat.  Not to mention the only wildlife to be seen in the area where we were staying was the multitude of magpies which plagued the neighbourhood trash bags.   After a few days we were itching to head west and find some elevation.

The approach to the mountains was gradual.  They started as shadows on the horizon shrouded in the mists of distance, and slowly became clearer.DSC_0838DSC_0850(ii)

The mountains were large, silent giants.  Some appeared sloped and weather beaten while others maintained their aggressive peak and shear faces.  The Rocky Mountains are some of the youngest mountains in the world, and when compared to old ranges like the alps, the difference is obvious.   The mountains were above all impressive, and each seemed dwarf the highest peak in Ontario (the Ishpatina Ridge, located in Temagami, some 693 metres).   These mountains are even more impressive up close, and during our drive down the Icefields Parkway, we often felt like we were at the feet of these giant monuments.  At times it can actually be difficult to drive and sight see at the same time as the mountains are so sheer in places.

Although the mountains were impressive, the rivers were also majestic.  Each river we passed seemed to be swollen with water from the mountains, charged by the hydraulic head.  The colours ranged from milky white to deep emerald green.  Made white from the deposition of silts and minerals from the nearby moutnains and glaciers which turned a deep emerald green once the minerals oxidized.  The latent trout fisherman in me was screaming insults at me and chided me for not bringing a line and lure.

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These rivers often fed into large powerful cascades such as the Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls.

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The park has countless hiking trails, bike trails, picnic areas and lookouts.  Scenic views are in no shortage in the park, especially along the Icefields Parkway.  There are even glaciers that you can walk up to and walk on if you have the cash and are so inclined.

DSC_0092Sadly, global warming is very obvious here as signs indicating the previous extents of the glaciers are placed periodically along the hike to the foot of the glacier.

The scenery was breath taking, but so was the plethora of animals which inhabit this majestic landscape.  Some of the more recognizable species include mammals like elk, white tail and mule deer, moose, caribou, mountain goat, dahl sheep, black and grizzly bears, as well as wolfs and a wide variety of other species.  We were lucky enough to see several on our trip including elk, black bear, white tail and mule deer in full velvet and several cheeky ground squirrels.  We were even lucky enough to have a cow elk and her calf visit our cabin in Jasper!  They stopped, grazed a bit, and then just moseyed in towards the middle of town.

Although amazing to us, I’m told occurrences like this are old hat to residents.

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Much of the wild life we encountered was along the Ice fields parkway.  This stretch of highway between Jasper and Banff is renown across the world as place where wildlife can be seen with ease.  As easy as it is to encounter wildlife it is important to remember they are just that. wild.  So feeding them or trying to interact can be both dangerous for you and the animals.

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The sheer size of the mountains did a good job of making me feel insignificant in the presence of their vastness.  Luckily the unique opportunity to see such a variety of animals up close reminded me of how diverse the landscape is and how much these species depend on habitat protection and conservation efforts from humans for their continual survival.  So although we may be insignificant next to a mountain, we make a mountain of a difference to an elk or bear when we protect areas like jasper and Banff.  Coming from Ontario, a place where elk are rare and only present due to restocking efforts, I can appreciate what these parks represent.

So I urge you to take a drive through the Rockies and experience the significance of a place like this.  Admire the animals and diversity from a distance.  See this natural wonder for yourself.  I’d be wiling to bet that seeing these wonders will give you an appreciation for the natural resources we as Canadians can take for granted.

Cheers from the wilds of Alberta,

Albert

Special Thanks to http://icefieldsparkway.com/maps for providing details on where to slop and sight see.

 

Backyard Rabbits

Based on the number i’ve seen this year, Id guess we are in a boom year for rabbits.  The particular bunny below was quite hefty, likely due to an easy winter and an abundance of food.

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Its great to see healthy populations of game animals.  Especially in an urban setting like my backyard.  I just hope he stays away from my vegetable garden.

Cheers

Albert

Amherst Island – A Beacon of Biodiversity

Kingston and the surrounding area is full of amazing places to see, things to do and animals to encounter.  We are bordered by Lake Ontario to the southwest, The St. Lawrence to the Southeast, broad shield forests to the north, and lots of unique wetlands in between.  Each with its own diverse, and unique ecosystem home to a huge number of interesting creatures.  One such place that deserves specific mention is Amherst Island.  Located just a short ferry ride to the southwest of Kingston, Amherst Island is sandwiched between its bigger brother Wolfe Island and Prince Edward County.  The island is famous as stop for numerous birds on their migration routes.  Not to mention a large number of resident species from all corners of the animal kingdom.   I recently had an opportunity to this unique place for work and was reminded of just how amazing the Island is.

The day started with an encounter with a groundhog in our office driveway.  Not a resident of Amherst, and not a particularly unique species, but worth a mention due to the specimens especially vibrant red fur.

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I loaded my work gear while the curious rodent silently looked on and made my way to the Ferry Dock where another photo op waited.  While waiting for the ferry I had the chance to get my lense on a number of diving ducks that had gathered near the dock and along the4 shore.  Lots of interesting diving ducks frequent the waters in our area during the spring and late fall.  A couple examples I encountered on this trip were several groups of Golden Eyes, Buffleheads, Long Tailed Ducks and Common Mergansers.  The odd Mallard and flock of Canadian Geese were also spotted but I missed pictures of them.

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There also seemed to be several loons and cormorants poking about in the straight between Amherst and the mainland.

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Once I made it to the island I completed my work and took a brief drive along Front Road which follows the North shore of the island. Once again the Island offered up more impressive photo ops of various species including a Kestrel, Flicker, and an injured Garter snake (possibly a Redsided garter).  These of course were in additional to numerous flocks of diving ducks and common bird species like bluejays, mourning doves and the like that were encountered.

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I was pleased with the plethora of animals to be seen on and around the Island.  This visit only added to the number of species I usually see during my semi annual visits which typically include including deer, fox, coyotes and numerous song birds and birds of prey.

With a peaked interest, I decided to ask a local land owner, who I was meeting with that day, about his wildlife experiences on the Island.  Specifically about various topics like predator levels and predation on his farm, deer populations (which i’m told are booming) and interesting species he has encountered.  Strangely enough, he noted that a flock of Turkeys had made their way to his farm in the winter for food.  According to him,  this is the first time he has seen these birds on the island (and he had been living there since before 1979).

We talked a bit more about his farm and other areas to visit on the island and he suggested visiting the famous Owl woods, located near the eastern edge of the island.  Sadly, my time on the island ran out and I begrudgingly returned to the ferry with a , sad to be leaving such a beautifully rich place.

More information on the Island can be found at http://www.amherstisland.on.ca/

A fairly in depth look at birding opportunities on the Island can be found at http://kingstonfieldnaturalists.org/birding/amherst_island.pdf

Wild Boars in Ontario

Ask any farmer or landowner from the southern United States and they will tell you feral pigs, otherwise know as the Eurasian Wild Pig are one of the biggest nuisances they face.  With populations at unprecedented levels and their presence being felt in 39 states (or more), these beasts terrorize farmers and landowners by destroying crops and rooting up land.  Simple put they are the definition of invasive.

So why discuss them on a blog centred around Southern Ontario?

It seems we too may soon have to deal with these invasive pests according to recent memorandum released by the Ministry of Natural Resources.  Apparently feral pigs have been spotted in the united counties of Prescott and Russell which are located east of Ottawa between Ottawa and Hawkesbury.  According to the memorandum, the MNR have authorized farmers and hunters to kill feral pigs under the authority of a small game licence (See a copy of the memorandum below).

All pertinent hunting rules and regulations regarding safety still remain in effect while hunting these animals and all kills or sighting should be reported to the ministry of natural resources at 1-800-667-1940. Those interested in more information on Wild boars in Ontario are also encouraged to contact the MNR.  In addition, “Wildboars in Canada” is a website dedicated to tracking sightings and encounters across the province.

http://wildboarcanada.ca/#sthash.ra8UktVY.dpbs

Invasive species can be a problem for any ecosystem and those found in Ontario are no exception.  Do your part and report any sightings of feral pigs, or any other invasive species for that matter, to the MNR.

 

http://www.invadingspecies.com/

Cheers

Al

P.S (If you see one, don’t be afraid to leave a comment below or send an email.  I make a mean smoked bacon and I have no problems travelling!)

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Downtown Ducks

A Sunday or two ago my wife and I decided to take a walk near the water front in down town Kingston with our little one.  The night was calm and cool and it was a perfect evening to be out and about downtown.  We had no destination in mind aside from some ice cream at white mountain and we ended up strolling along the water front near confederation basin.  Once along the shores we were greeted by a pretty large flock of mallard ducks interdispersed with some geese and other birds dabbling in the harbour.  This excited my little one to no end and as she played I realized how often I have overlooked these birds.  Bobbing the in waters of the harbour, chasing each other around or dabbling for food. They seemed like part of the background or worse, are considered nuisances because of the amoutn of feces they produce.  On an easy night like tonight though, they seemed to appear just as beautiful as the wild ones I encounter in the blind.  As my little attempted to feed the quacking mass my thoughts drifted towards these birds and how such vibrant things could exist in the middle of a city.

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Upon further reflection I marvelled at these birds and that no matter how much we change the landscape, destroy habitat, pollute our environment, life still seems to find a way to survive and flourish.  Mallard ducks and Canadian geese for that matter, are a prime example of this as they seem to flourish when living near humans.  While enjoying the relative safety a downtown park brings, the ducks and geese are provided with ample food from passers by, grassed lawns and number of other plant species that thrive in our harbours.  We have essentially created a custom fitted, bread laden paradise for these little creatures.

Although its not their naturally intended setting, its nice to see that in this case, destruction of natural habitat has actually ended up having the exact opposite effect from what would be expected.  Further, its nice to have this aspect of nature still prevalent in our downtown cores.  Perhaps next time folks get upset about the amount of duck and geese poop on their lawn or in a field we should take a moment and imagine what it would be like if they weren’t there.

I wonder what my little one could feed during our Sunday evening walks then…..

Cheers from the wild in the middle of town,

Albert